This article originally appeared in Pyramid #18

Honor Most Criminal

Swordplay in Elizabethan England
by Bryan John Maloney

". . . when you find him with weapons in his hand that will needs fight with you, although he were your friend or kinsman, take him for an enemy . . ."
— Vincentio Saviolo, Of the Use of the Rapier and Dagger, a manual of rapier.

". . . it behooves us not upon every abuse offered whereby our blood shall be inflamed . . . by force of arms to seek revenge, which is the proper nature of wild beasts in their rage so to do, being void of the use of reason . . ."
— George Silver, Brief Instructions, response from the broadsword.

"Between 1601 and 1609, over two thousand noblemen died in duels." — Aldo Nadi, On Fencing, counting the bodies from the 20th century.

For about a century after 1570, a murderous newcomer competed with the ancient broadsword to capture the hearts of England's swordsmen. The rapier began in Spain and Italy — the word comes from the Spanish espada ropera, a sword to be worn as a clothing accessory. These countries were the first in Europe whose warfare was dominated by pikes and firearms. This begot heavier armor, too heavy for a one-handed sword and too expensive for common soldiers to have more than a helmet. The broadsword was no longer vital to warfare. This article describes Elizabethan English rapier and broadsword combat styles that can also be used in a traditional "high fantasy" campaign.

Rapiers probably descended from the estoc, a medieval thrusting sword. Finger guards in front of the crosspiece had appeared by 1400, permitting a rapier-like grip. By 1450, thumb guards and the ricasso (a short, square-sectioned length at the base of the blade) had appeared. The "swept" rapier hilt appeared by the 16th century. The final result was a light weapon, incapable of transmitting force through heavy armor, but well-suited to settling scores in silk and velvet.

Duels were not invented by rapier masters, however. Duelling was as old as the Germanic tribes that sacked Rome, and professional duellists could make quite a living in medieval Europe. Systematic teaching of broadsword duelling techniques went at least as far back as the 13th century. The Fechtbuch of 1443 may be the oldest surviving European "martial arts manual." These ancient traditions did not simply roll over and quit for the fancy upstart.

The broadsword-using French Masters of Arms were very close to their kings, and they used their influence to exclude Italian rapier masters as long as they could. This did not mean that the French refused to learn from their rivals. Their smallsword styles were based on Italian rapier, and ultimately replaced it by around 1700.

In England, there was more open competition, which mirrored Elizabethan society. Weighing-in for the broadsword were the London Masters, commoners hired to train the yeomanry who manned England's armies. Their tradition dated to King Edward I, who reigned 1272-1307. Although their schools were banned in 1281 and 1310 to discourage brawling, the "Masters of the Noble Science of Defence" gained a royal patent from Henry VIII in 1540.

The English style encouraged "dirty" tactics like grabbing an opponent's sword arm, punching with a hilt or buckler edge, and even tripping an opponent to finish him off on the ground. Since masters of this style also trained soldiers, they taught the use of military weapons, like the short pike ("half-pike") and the bill.

The only known written manual for the London Masters' style is George Silver's Brief Instructions upon my Paradoxes of Defence, written in 1599 but not published until 1898, long after English sword and Italian rapier were eclipsed by French smallsword. The techniques described in this manual would be familiar to any student of military hand-to-hand and plain old street fighting: trip, kick, wrestle, stab, smash, and clobber.

Studying the English style was cheap enough for many schools to support themselves outside of London. A 1545 book mentions "Maisters of 'fence in everie towne," 25 years before the appearance of rapier schools in London. ("'Fence" or "fencing" comes from "defence" and was a generic word for a variety of styles and weapons, much like "martial arts" is today.) Since this style was for the common man, any character of Status 1+ in an historical Elizabethan campaign would need a 5-point Unusual Background (Professional Military, for example) to take it during character generation.

Rapier masters, on the other hand, catered to gentlemen. Rocco Bonetti "had in his schoole a large square table . . . done round with a verie brode rich fringe of gold, . . . with incke, pens, pin-dust, and sealing waxe, . . . readie for the Noblemen & Gentlemen . . . to send their men to dispatch their businesse . . ." Rapier masters arrived in England around 1570, and the fad for all things Italian guaranteed that they would be seen as fashionable.

Study at a rapier school annually cost 20 (20 pounds sterling) to 100 when the annual wage of a married Anglican minister with children was 20. Any character with less than Comfortable wealth would have a hard time affording instruction, and would probably need a 5-point Unusual Background.

Elizabethan rapier manuals include Giacomo DiGrassi's True Arte of Defence, published in 1594. In 1595, Vincentio Saviolo published Of the Use of the Rapier and Dagger. He soon followed with Of Honor and Honorable Quarrels. The first was a style manual, the second a rulebook for duelling. (Rules similar to Saviolo's appear in GURPS Swashbucklers, pp. 32-34.)

When it comes to actual technique, Elizabethan rapier differed quite a bit from modern fencing. Rapier fencers in the 16th century were taught to keep their weapon leg to the rear. The sword was not considered important for defense and only parried attacks targeting the sword side. Fencers parried with a weapon in the off hand or an off-hand glove (with a mailed palm). Like modern fencing, rapier fencing did emphasize thrusting; therefore, cuts are a treated as a special maneuver (see Draw Cut, below).

Conflict between rapier and sword masters broke out in lethal duels (which rapier masters tended to lose, according to contemporary records) and publication of at least one book. George Silver's Paradoxes of Defence (published in 1599) was a diatribe against the rapier and excessive "honor," wherein death was dealt over the length of a man's collar, and it revealed the seamy, vicious side of the elegant duels that gentlemen of the day indulged in.

Rapiers also had legal opposition. Queen Elizabeth decreed that all swords brought into London had to be measured, and any with a blade longer than 36 inches (and all rapiers had blades longer than this) was to be broken. To kill in a duel was murder, and men were hanged for the sake of their "honor." Practitioners of the native English style could claim they taught military techniques in the name of the Crown. Rapiers were for civilian vendetta.

Why was the rapier so popular in England, given all its problems? In a word: fashion. The rapier was elegant. It was slender, lovely. It accented a set of silks in a way that the heavy broadsword never could. Furthermore, study of the broadsword was led by mere commoners — brawlers and soldiers. Rapier masters acted like gentlemen and treated their students like gentlemen. It also required less sweaty effort to learn the basics than for the broadsword.

It is true, as anyone who has studied more than one martial art will tell you, that concentration on a single technique is dangerous in a real fight. If you never learn about tripping and wrestling, you are helpless if somebody uses them against you. However, duels were the vice of gentlemen, and the danger of meeting another gentleman who had lowered himself to study with "the lower sort" was fairly slight.

To study the broadsword, a gentleman would have had to rub shoulders with the sons of cart-pushers and manure shovelers. Sword masters taught fighting, not an art. They taught tripping and grabbing, inelegant and ugly ways to win a fight. Gentlemen no longer needed to master the sword of war to serve the Crown, since the musket held the field, and even officers had begun to carry firearms by 1600.

Regardless of patronage or popularity, both styles lost their conflict in the end. One of the last uses of the broadsword in infantry warfare was by Highland Scottish regiments in the French and Indian War. After 1783, even these units voluntarily returned their swords to the armory, never to wield them again in battle. Rapiers had never been for war, and they declined in duelling in the face of the faster, lighter smallsword. The duel then fell out of favor because of widespread social change and legal opposition. By 1800, the sword and the rapier were objects of curiosity, nostalgia, and ceremony, and their arts were virtually forgotten. The sword was slandered as a "steel club" with no art nor style, while the rapier was perverted into the modern foil.

New and Modified Skills

Skills mentioned but not defined herein come from GURPS Basic Set, Swashbucklers or Martial Arts.

Fencing (DiGrassi) (Physical/Average)
Defaults to DX-5, Fencing (Saviolo)-3
or Fencing (Modern)-3.

This form of rapier fencing was taught by orthodox Italianate masters. It retains several ties to older broadsword styles, including the stance. Parry is 2⁄3 skill for attacks against the fencer's sword side (e.g., an attack from a left-handed attacker when you are fencing right-handed, or vice-versa). Attacks to the other side are parried at 1⁄2 skill. For attacks against the Head, Torso, or Vitals, it is assumed that the attacker is attacking the defender's opposite side unless he takes a -1 penalty (i.e., assume that a right-handed attacker attacks the target's left-hand side by default).

Disarming and the empty-hand parry with the off hand are described below.

Fencing (Saviolo) (Physical/Average)
Defaults to DX-5, Fencing (DiGrassi)-3
or Fencing (Modern)-2.

This form of rapier fencing was based on the aggressive, footwork-intensive Spanish style, simplified for English students. Parry is 1⁄2 skill, but the practitioner may add 1⁄8 his skill to his Dodge against any bare-handed or thrusting melee attack. The Dodge bonus cannot be gained from default use.

Disarming and the empty-hand parry with the off hand are described below.

New and Modified Maneuvers

Aggressive Parry (Hard)       p. MA37
Prerequisite: Any Combat/Weapon skill; cannot exceed skill/2.

As per p. MA37, except that this maneuver defaults to (skill/2)-4, even for Fencing weapons, rather than Karate Parry-4. If successful, either the foe's weapon, weapon arm or weapon hand can be hit — attacker's choice.

Attack and Fly Back (Hard)       Defaults to Fencing (DiGrassi or Saviolo)-3 or Broadsword-3.
Prerequisite: Weapon skill.

Must specialize. Cannot exceed prerequisite skill level. This maneuver has two versions that must be learned separately:

The first version closes range by one yard for the attack, then returns the attacker to his original position. The attacker steps forward with his rear foot and thrusts with his rapier or sword. This is resolved as a Step and Attack, rolling against the fencer's score in this maneuver rather than his Fencing skill. Successful or not, he then immediately steps back, which requires a second roll against Attack and Fly Back. Failure on this second roll indicates that the attacker steps back, but is off balance: -2 to all Active Defenses for that turn. A critical failure on the second roll means that the attacker falls!

The second version does not close distance for the attack but does increase distance afterwards. The attacker launches a normal attack (either a swing or a thrust), and then jumps back or to the side, regardless of the result. This is treated as an Attack and Step, with the Step being two yards instead of one on a successful roll against this maneuver. Failure has the results indicated above. In either case, the attacker automatically adds the +3 for a Retreat (p. B109) to his first defense against his target this turn. He may not step back a further hex to Retreat from another foe, however.

Back Strike (Hard)       Defaults to Weapon Skill-4.
Prerequisite: Weapon skill; cannot exceed prerequisite skill level.

This is the armed equivalent of a Back Kick maneuver (p. MA38). It is normally learned for the Staff skill, but the GM may permit it for other thrusting weapons. A staff used this way does normal thrusting damage (thrust+2), but is limited to reach 1. The attacker's Parry with that weapon is at -2 for the turn.

Disarming (Hard)       p. MA38
Prerequisite: Fencing (any).

This maneuver can be used with either the rapier or the off hand. Using the rapier, this is handled in the usual way: a successful rapier Parry, followed by a Quick Contest of Disarming versus the opponent's DX.

Using the off hand, a foe's rapier or knife must first be grabbed (as per p. B111). A held blade can then be removed by winning a Quick Contest of Disarming versus the owner's ST+2 (not DX).

Draw Cut (Average)       Defaults to Fencing (DiGrassi or Saviolo)-2.
Prerequisite: Fencing (DiGrassi or Saviolo); cannot exceed prerequisite skill level.

This maneuver is for weapons that do not have enough concentration of mass to chop; the weapon must still have a sharp edge. It is executed by placing the blade in contact with the foe and then pulling the weapon across his body.

A fencer may attempt this maneuver as his regular attack, rolling against his Draw Cut level. He may also attempt a draw cut immediately after he has missed a thrust attempt, rolling against Draw Cut-4. To do the latter, either the fencer must have completely missed with the thrust, or the defender must have "cleanly dodged" the attack (i.e., the Dodge's success is not due to the target's PD). When a draw cut is made as a follow-up to a missed thrust, it must be targeted at the same general body area as the original thrust.

A draw cut does thrust/cutting damage. DR from metal armor is doubled against the attack, and a draw cut cannot be targeted against any hit location that normally requires a thrusting attack to hit (i.e., the Brain, Eyes or Vitals).

Full Pass (Average)       Defaults to Fencing (DiGrassi)-3.
Prerequisite: Fencing (DiGrassi); cannot exceed Fencing (DiGrassi) skill level.

This maneuver resembles the first version of Attack and Fly Back, except that the attacker does not withdraw. Instead, he throws his weight into the attack and ends up with his weapon side forward. The thrust does +1 damage, but leaves the attacker at -1 to all active defenses that turn. The attacker must step one yard towards the foe (and not merely attack in place) to use this maneuver.

Note that while there is a passing similarity, this is not the same thing as the fleche used in more modern fencing styles.

Hand Parry (Special)       p. MA40
Prerequisite: Fencing (DiGrassi or Saviolo).

This maneuver applies to both styles of Fencing described in this article. Parry with an empty off hand is done at 2⁄3 skill, but only versus punches and thrusting weapon attacks. Kicks and swung weapons are parried at -3. Using the empty hand to parry does not prevent normal use of the sword.

Empty-hand parrying can be unpleasant. Apply thrust-1 points of cutting damage (minimum 1 point) to any Hand Parry against a thrusting attack from a weapon with a sharp edge. If the weapon has been grabbed (see Disarming, above), apply this damage every turn. Any swung attack from a weapon of heavier construction than a rapier (e.g., a broadsword or an axe) will do full damage to the hand or arm (defender's choice), even on a successful Parry!

Hilt Punch (Average)       Defaults to Brawling-2.
Prerequisite: Brawling and Weapon Skill at 12+. Must specialize. Cannot exceed Brawling skill level.

This is a Brawling punch with the bell or hilt of a sword or knife. Such a punch is normally at -2 in close combat; this maneuver simply allows this -2 to be bought off. This maneuver can only be performed in close combat, and only if the weapon has a basket hilt. Damage is equal to thrust/crushing, plus any Brawling bonuses, just as if the character had a set of brass knuckles.

Off-Hand Weapon Training (Hard)       Defaults to any Combat/Weapon skill-4.
Prerequisite: Any Combat/Weapon skill; cannot exceed prerequisite skill level.

Anyone who has learned to use a weapon with the master hand can learn to use the same weapon with the off hand. This maneuver allows one to eliminate the -4 off- hand penalty, but only for that particular weapon. Note: This maneuver appeared as a "skill" in earlier GURPS supplements.

Proto-Lunge (Hard)       Defaults to Fencing (Saviolo)-4.
Prerequisite: Fencing (Saviolo); cannot exceed Fencing (Saviolo) skill level.

The proto-lunge is a predecessor of the modern lunge; in many ways, it is the Fencing equivalent of a Jump Kick. The fencer jumps up to two yards forward and thrusts for +2 damage. The attack is -1 to Parry. A successful proto-lunge leaves the attacker at -2 to all active defenses that turn.

If the Proto-Lunge roll is failed, the attacker must make a roll against DX-1 or Jumping to avoid falling down. Even if this second roll succeeds, he will be off balance and all active defenses will be at -3 for the turn, instead of -2.

Proto-Riposte (Hard)       Defaults to weapon skill-3.
Prerequisite: Weapon skill. Must specialize. Cannot exceed prerequisite skill level.

Elizabethan fencing did not know the true riposte, which was considered a miraculous innovation as late as the 1760s. However, Elizabethan writings emphasize following any parry with an immediate attack.

A proto-riposte is simply a normal attack maneuver made on the turn immediately following a successful Parry. To launch a proto-riposte, the attacker must attack with the same weapon that made the Parry, and must attack the foe whose weapon he parried. The attack is rolled against the fencer's Proto-Riposte maneuver instead of his Fencing skill. If successful, the target defends at -2, since the weapon is already "inside" the target's defenses as a result of the earlier parry.

Slip Out and Attack (Hard)       Defaults to Fencing (Saviolo)-3.
Prerequisite: Fencing (Saviolo); cannot exceed Fencing (Saviolo) skill level.

To perform this maneuver, a character attempts a Dodge defense against an attack and immediately counterattacks, regardless of the results of the Dodge. This counts as a single maneuver. The Dodge is attempted normally, while the attack is rolled against the fencer's score in this maneuver. The target may defend, but at -1. A man can be killed and still land this blow!

Sweeping Kick (Hard)       p. MA42
Prerequisites: Brawling and Wrestling at 12+, and an appropriate style; cannot exceed Brawling skill level.

For practitioners of the London Masters' Style, this maneuver defaults to Brawling-4. It is otherwise identical to the maneuver described on p. MA42.

Time Thrust (Hard)       Defaults to Fencing (DiGrassi or Saviolo)-4 or Broadsword-4.
Prerequisite: Fencing (DiGrassi or Saviolo) or Broadsword. Must specialize. Cannot exceed skill for Fencing (DiGrassi) or Broadsword; cannot exceed skill+2 for Fencing (Saviolo).

The goal of a modern time thrust is to score a hit just before you are hit. In a duel, it does not matter who hits whom first if both combatants end up fatally wounding each other. Nevertheless, surviving Elizabethan manuals describe a maneuver that resembles a time thrust. The duellist was supposed to attempt such a thrust only when it would not injure him. The high rate of fatalities among "winners" shows that this was not always done.

A Time Thrust is attempted in lieu of an active defense, and "uses up" one Parry. A successful time thrust requires a Body Language roll, followed by a Time Thrust roll. If the Body Language roll succeeds by 3+, the time thrust lands first, and any damage suffered by the target of the time thrust is applied as a penalty against his current attack roll — the time thrust got in soon enough to have an effect. If the Body Language roll does not succeed by 3+, then the victim's attack lands first, and damage penalties are assessed normally.

The target of a time thrust can only defend if he can make a Body Language roll by 3+; even so, it is parried at -1, and Body Language gives no bonus to this attempt. Parrying a time thrust forces the target to abort his attack.

Note that this is similar to the Stop Hit maneuver described in GURPS Martial Arts Adventures, but not the same.

Fencing Styles

Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers were based on boasts from period sources. Saviolo was rumored to maintain "a roome the which was called his privie schoole . . . where he did teach his schollers his secret fight . . ." In a cinematic campaign, the Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers should only be available to someone who is Trained by a Master (p. MA25).

The School of DiGrassi       11 points/13 points

DiGrassi probably taught mainstream Italianate rapier. He had a conservative approach towards powerful thrusts, using a pass rather than a lunge. DiGrassi emphasized defensive use of the knife. Feinting was not important to his style, since DiGrassi considered feints to be acts of desperation, not subject to systematic study.

Primary Skills: Fencing (DiGrassi), Main-Gauche, and either Fencing Sport (DiGrassi) or Fencing Art (DiGrassi).

Secondary Skills: Body Language, Buckler, Cloak, Tournament Law (Duello) and either Fencing Art (DiGrassi) or Fencing Sport (DiGrassi) — whichever was not taken as a Primary skill.

Optional Skills: Language: Italian, Savoir-Faire.

Maneuvers: Attack and Fly Back (Fencing), Disarming (Fencing), Draw Cut [2 points], Full Pass, Off-Hand Weapon Training (Rapier), Proto-Riposte (Fencing), Time Thrust (Fencing).

Cinematic Skills: none.

Cinematic Maneuvers: Dual-Weapon Attack (Main- Gauche), Dual-Weapon Attack (Rapier).

The School of Saviolo       14 points/31 points

Saviolo introduced a style probably based upon Spanish practices. Saviolo discounted parrying, but he gave side-slips and footwork greater importance than any other master in England. Saviolo presaged modern styles in teaching a sword-forward stance and a maneuver that resembled the modern lunge.

Primary Skills: Body Language [2 points], Fencing (Saviolo).

Secondary Skills: Buckler, Cloak, Fencing Sport or Art (Saviolo), Knife, Tournament Law (Duello).

Optional Skills: Mathematics (Geometry), Savoir-Faire and Fencing Sport or Art (Saviolo) — whichever was not taken as a Secondary skill.

Maneuvers: Attack and Fly Back (Fencing), Disarming (Fencing), Draw Cut, Feint (Fencing), Hit Location (Fencing), Off-Hand Weapon Training (Knife or Rapier), Proto-Lunge, Proto-Riposte (Fencing), Slip Out and Attack, Time Thrust (Fencing) [2 points].

Cinematic Skills: Pressure Points (with rapier).

Cinematic Maneuvers: Dual-Weapon Attack (Knife), Dual-Weapon Attack (Rapier), Enhanced Dodge.

The London Masters' Style       20 points/34 points

This style included instruction in half-pike, quarterstaff and polearm. As well, the London Masters taught "grips" (grabbing the opponent's body), tripping, and other "dirty" tactics. By the late Elizabethan period, many of the London Masters also had experience fighting rapier users; therefore, London stylists will often have Style Familiarity (p. MA24) with one or more rapier styles. It was also common for London stylists to be Intolerant of rapier fencers (-5 points).

Primary Skills: Brawling, Broadsword, Buckler, Knife, Staff and Wrestling. Secondary Skills: Body Language, Broadsword Sport, Polearm, Spear and Two-Handed Sword.

Optional Skills: Jumping, Tactics.

Maneuvers: Aggressive Parry (Broadsword, Knife and Staff), Arm Lock, Attack and Fly Back (Broadsword), Back Strike (Staff), Disarming (Broadsword), Hilt Punch (Broadsword and Knife), Proto-Riposte (Broadsword [2 points] and Staff), Sweeping Kick, Time Thrust (Broadsword).

Cinematic Skills: Immovable Stance, Power Blow (with Staff only).

Cinematic Maneuvers: Dual Weapon Attack (Broadsword), Dual Weapon Attack (Knife), Enhanced Parry (all weapons).

Weapons of Elizabethan Swordplay


The primary weapon of the English style was a basket-hilted, single-edged broadsword or "backsword." While the backsword lacked a reverse edge, it had a stronger blade. This weapon was also called a "short sword" in the Elizabethan period, since it was shorter than a rapier. It is similar to a broadsword with a thrusting tip, but parries gain +1 PD from the full basket hilt, which also gives DR 4 to the sword hand.


A rapier was a long-bladed (up to 60 inches!), narrow (1 1/8- to 5/8-inch) thrusting sword. It would be considered remarkably tip-heavy by modern fencers. If a modern fencer were to use an Elizabethan rapier, he would attack at -1; Parry would still be 2/3 Fencing (Modern). Regardless of the specific skill used, a rapier can only be used to parry one attack per turn.

Rapiers became narrower over time, going from 1 1/8 inches wide in 1550 to 5/8 inches in 1660. "Extra-narrow" rapiers could be more effective against fine mail, but they would also be more fragile. If an "extra-narrow" is used to parry a swung attack from a weapon three or more times its own weight, it has a 1 in 2 (1, 2 or 3 on 1d) chance of breaking instead of the usual 1 in 3 chance.

Length was chiefly for fashion. Some rapiers were almost five feet long, and some were rumored to have reached six feet! These absurdities would have been a hindrance in a fight, but saying that a man's sword was short could be construed as an insult that required a duel.

A rapier can be up to 2/3 a character's height plus six inches before it becomes too long to use easily. Divide length in excess of this (in inches) by six and round to nearest whole number. The result is the penalty to all attacks, parries, and fencing maneuvers made by that person while using such a weapon.


This was a compromise between the rapier and the sword, and could be used with either broadsword or rapier styles. It was more slender than a broadsword but shorter than a rapier. The resulting weapon was held in favor among military men long after the rapier died out.


A "foil" was any blade with a blunt tip and no edge. Foils are identical to real weapons except that they do only crushing damage, and thrusting attacks do one point less damage than a sharp-tipped sword. It is possible to mistake a "sharp" for a "foil" if one does not look closely.


Traditional knives and daggers (p. B206) were used alongside the main-gauche and stiletto. These new blades were long and slender — made for thrusting. The stiletto retained a cross hilt, while the main-gauche might have more elaborate protection, up to and including a full basket hilt. A main-gauche with a full basket gives +1 PD when it is used to Parry, and gives DR 4 to the knife hand.


Duelling shields could actually be as large as a GURPS Medium Shield. Use the attributes for bucklers and shields on p. B76, except that all sizes from "Buckler" to "Medium Shield" can be built for use with the Buckler skill.



A fine-mesh mail vest and a mail-palmed glove were the favorite armor of rapier masters, although Silver decried these practices as unmanly. The vests were finely enough made that they could be concealed under the normal clothes of the day. Evidently, the vest offered effective protection against a rapier thrust, since history documents their popularity. Apply PD3, DR3 against cutting and impaling attacks, unless the impaling attack comes from a blade less than one inch wide, in which case protection is PD0, DR1. Since the vest is so fine and flexible, protection against crushing attacks is only PD1, DR1.

A fine-mesh vet costs three times as much as a normal chainmail vest (see p. B210) and weighs the same.

Soldiers often wore a breastplate or corselet (use the stats on p. B210) and "demi-greaves" that covered the upper arms (treat as plate arms, p. B210, but with half cost and weight; they can be avoided by taking an extra -2 to hit). This was worn over a leather "buff coat" (PD 2, DR 2, cost and weight are the same as leather arm, leg and torso armor, p. B210). Nobility and the rich could afford full armor, usually of plate.


A mail-palmed glove would protect palm of the hand as per the chain vest, above. It was used to prevent damage from parrying a rapier or a knife with that hand. Each glove costs as much as a single plate gauntlet, and weighs 1/2 lb. A weapon wielded while wearing such a glove is used at -2 to skill.


Common soldiers would have a sallet or other helmet, equivalent to the GURPS pot-helm (p. B210). The wealthy could afford virtually any low-tech headgear they wanted.

"Armor of Proof"

Plate armor and metal helmets can be purchased as "pistol proof." This is 2.5 times normal price, 1.25 times normal weight and +2 DR. "Musket proof" armor would be triple cost, 1.5 times weight and +4 DR.

Table I — Weapon Table

Weapon Type     Amount     Reach     Cost     Wt. Min ST Special Notes
BROADSWORD (DX-5 or Shortsword-2)
Sword cut sw+1 1 66s. 3 lbs. 10 Has a full basket hilt.
imp thr+1 1
Sword-Rapier cut sw+1 1 60s. 2.75 lbs. 10
imp thr+1 1,2
Early Rapier imp thr+1 1,2 60s. 2.5 lbs. 9 Common before 1620.
Late Rapier imp thr+1 1,2 60s. 2 lbs. 9 Extra-narrow blade (less than 1"), common after 1630.
Sword-Rapier imp thr+1 1,2 60s. 2.75 lbs. 10
Stiletto imp thr-1 C 1s. 0.3 lbs. Maximum damage 1d+1.
Main-Gauche imp thr C,1 2s. 1 lb. Maximum damage 1d+2, can be used to disarm.

Prices are in shillings (s.), c. 1600 value. Twelve shillings equal $100 GURPS value. Decoration could multiply base cost by hundreds; lack of sufficient decoration could damage one's status in certain circles!

Sword and rapier costs are inflated to match the prices that the Basic Set gives swords in fantasy settings. Divide by two or three to obtain a "period" price for a "Good" sword. Adding a full basket hilt to a main-gauche increases its weight by 1/2 lb. and its cost by 3 to 6 s.


Nadi, Aldo. 1943. On Fencing.Laureate Press. Sunrise, Florida.

Silver, George. 1599?. Brief Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defence.HTML edition ( coded by Greg Lindahl. 1994.

Silver, George, 1599. Paradoxes of Defence. 1933 edition by Oxford University Press. Oxford, England.

Turner, Craig and Soper, Tony. 1990. Methods and Practices of Elizabethan Swordplay. Southern Illinois University Press. Carbondale, Illinois.

Valentine, Eric. 1968. Rapiers. Stackpole Books. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Article publication date: March 1, 1996

Copyright © 1996 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to